From History to City: Ziwan Li's Fantasy World

Ziwan Li

In a world where each individual has his or her own odyssey through imagination, diverse IP universes like Marvel and Harry Potter flourish. Amidst this creative tapestry, Chinese concept artist Ziwan Li stands out with her personal project "Balhae," which recently clinched the 2024 A' Design Award and the Asian Youth Rookie Award. The A' Design Award is renowned globally for its recognition of exemplary design work and its promotion of international design talent. In this interview, let's dive into her captivating historical fantasy.

As an artist deeply passionate about history, Ziwan Li was instantly captivated by Gwyn Conaway's intriguing story setting—a historical fantasy game set in the Tang Dynasty, focusing on the enigmatic Balhae Kingdom. Despite the lack of visual references and written records, Li's dedication and imagination brought this ancient civilization to life, drawing from textual descriptions and Shamanism.

Navigating the project faced unique challenges, as maintaining historical accuracy was crucial for credibility in the fantasy genre. Ziwan Li spent several months conducting thorough research, including museum exploration and comparing historical records from various cultures. The resulting characters and designs authentically captured the era's cultural nuances, showcasing Li's attention to detail and creativity. Set in the ancient kingdom of Balhae in 926 CE, "Balhae" immerses players in a world where Shamanism, vibrant arts, and diverse tribal cultures converge. The narrative follows the journey of apprentice Junghyae and her mentor, Master Liu Degong, who are summoned to exorcise the village of Gyeru. The villagers seek liberation from the haunting presence of ghosts in the shallow sea, yearning to safely traverse its waters and hunt mermaids.

Li's designs blend classical and modern styles effortlessly, creating a captivating fusion that sparks the imagination. Particularly noteworthy is the character "Master Yoo," a Shaman exorcist renowned for his mastery over crows. This character exemplifies Li's ability to infuse ancient traditions with a contemporary flair, breathing new life into age-old practices.

Li's deep interest in the intricate ties between the Tang Dynasty and Korea enriches their designs with a wealth of cultural influences. By drawing inspiration from different historical eras, Li skillfully blends a variety of elements to craft designs that are both authentic and captivating.

Li's work, "Balhae," will be showcased at an exhibition in Italy in June and July. In addition to this exciting news, Li has received a prestigious invitation to contribute to Marvel's IP projects, a testament to her remarkable talent in character design and meticulous attention to detail. Recognized for her exceptional portrayal of characters, Li's mastery caught the eye of Marvel's art director, opening doors to new opportunities.